5am: a gibbous moon floats high. Fields on each side of the one-lane road are painted in shades of gray. Venus flares huge to the eye, Orion on her left hand. Jupiter sets. Thin clouds crawl up from the south, their fingers stretching across the sky.
I'm in east-central Texas for my Stepmother Dorothy's funeral. Yesterday afternoon my brother Keith drives my Father and me from the family farm to the church where we drop off the obituary info for the pastor. We see the house where Dad was born, the two-room schoolhouse that he attended. On Sunday morning I'm up early to run along the same narrow lanes. It's a little scary, out here by myself; I imagine how much spookier it would feel to run alone here if not a white male. It's warm and humid, temperatures rising from the upper 70's to a high of 100+.
At 4:50am I begin in my Father's front yard. The gravel driveway takes me to Farm-to-Market 609, a two-lane highway, speed limit 70 mph. As headlights approach I move off the shoulder and wade through the grass to stand still by a fencepost, hoping to escape notice in my black shirt, face turned away. It works: the truck blasts past and I return to the road, burrs sticking to my socks and shoelaces. Side streets here are named after local families. I pass Zimmermann Lane, a dead end, and turn a quarter mile later onto Peeler Rd.
As I trot between fields the line "Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough" comes to mind, from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem "Pied Beauty". In the dim I can't make out the big rolls of hay or the herds of cattle that were so apparent yesterday. My moonshadow chases me. A distant rooster crows prematurely. Dogs bark when I pass near a farmhouse. Otherwise, silence.
At the next corner I try in vain to make out the street sign. Eric Clifton's anecdote about peering at trail markings by the light of his watch suggests a solution: I open my cellphone and in its glow see Thuemler Rd branching to the left. Not time to turn yet. Ten minutes later at the end of Peeler Rd I must choose left or right on Knape Rd. I go left, a mistake—but it turns out ok. My plan is to jog to the church, but I only carry one bottle of water and resolve to turn back when it's half finished.
At 5:30 Orion is mostly obscured by clouds. At the crest of a hill I see another highway a mile ahead, headlights racing past. My country lane remains traffic-free. A small pink-edged halo rings the moon. A whiff of skunk tickles my nose as the road descends to cross over a dry creek. Climbing up I begin to see the lights of La Grange and Schulenburg in the distance, between twinkling beacons of TV/radio towers. At 5:41am I reach US Hwy 77, tag the stop sign at the end of Knape Rd, and turn back.
A few minutes later I hear a noise from the field to the right. It sounds precisely like rain. I stop and peer. In the moonlight I spy a herd of cows, sides brushing against the tall grass as they stroll toward the barbed-wire fence, curious as to who could possibly be coming by at this strange hour, water bottle sloshing.
I think about Dorothy now, and how she looked in the coffin at the funeral home yesterday, and how I can still hear her voice, friendly and inviting and joking and loving. Then the clouds begin to thicken and cover the moon, and it seems to me that Dorothy is like the moon, waxing and then waning. As are we all. And just before the moon goes away completely, the horizon starts to glow with the light of a new day.
1931 - 2009
^z - 2009-08-14